Disinformation is an issue I’ve been wanting to address since the 2016 Presidential election. It’s now becoming critical because there’s a very frightening threat to what I consider to be our most important constitutionally protected right; Freedom of Speech as protected by Amendment I of the U.S. Constitution. It’s not illegal or a violation of any laws, to lie. People lie all day, every day. I’m not talking about lying about things that are truly fraudulent, I’m talking about telling someone something that they can choose to believe or not believe. I don’t believe in UFOs and nothing will convince me otherwise. That’s my prerogative. There are millions of people who buy into it. By the same token, I can choose to believe stories about Presidential candidates or not believe.
Claims of Russian interference in our election started early in the 2016 campaign cycle. The question I needed answered was how exactly would they have been able to affect our ballot boxes? How did they physically change the counts in order to change the results of the election? The answer is, they didn’t. What they did is put out false information and the uninformed electorate bought into much of it, hook, line and sinker. But they bought into it because they wanted to. Just the way people want to believe in UFOs and aliens from other galaxies visiting us. Is there life on other planets? Perhaps but I haven’t seen any concrete proof to support that. It’s no different than belief in religion. You believe, because you want or need to believe.
Before continuing, it is important to note that a Federal Grand Jury indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers with interfering in the 2016 US elections. This involved a computer hacking conspiracy for unauthorized access into US computers and stolen documents meant to interfere with the election. The hacking of personal or government computers is clearly a crime and needed to be investigated to ensure that no one in the US was complicit in this theft of information. Those involved needed to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, that is very different from what I believe to be legitimate free speech.
Social media has become the forum for which everyone has a voice and unlimited access to information. As a writer and someone who weighs and measures issues not based on personal beliefs but rather by facts, I only believe what I hear or read from credible sources and what I see with my own two eyes. The reason education is so important is it gives one the ability to discern the information to help make informed decisions. My writings are not based on what I view on MSNBC, or Fox. I don’t watch either channel. I do my own research and write accordingly. Unfortunately, people are no longer interested in truth. That’s what makes them so vulnerable. All they really want to hear is what confirms their preconceived notions and long-held beliefs.
We all have those beliefs and no matter what anyone can show us, it won’t change our opinions or feelings on whatever the issue is. Our beliefs are what make up much of who we are. When those beliefs are challenged and changed, we’re changed. And that’s not an easy pill to swallow for so many people. It’s just one reason for Congressional gridlock.
President Obama at one point in his life believed that marriage was a union between and man and a woman. Through much soul searching I’m sure, his opinion evolved, and he stated as much. It was an important revelation as his original opinion was obviously formed from his religious beliefs, which often run contrary to civil law or simply what’s right. Being open to new thoughts and ideas is part of what makes someone a well-rounded intelligent human being. It’s not about watching someone that looks like you or speaks the same language and confirms what you “already knew.”
According to an article written by Christina Georgacopoulos and Gracie Mores titled How Fake News Affected the 2016 Presidential Election, the top five engaged fake news stories on Facebook regarding the 2016 election were as follows: 1) Pope Francis Endorses Trump 2) Wikileaks confirms Hillary sold weapons to ISIS 3) It’s over: Hillary Email just leaked and it’s worse than anyone could have imagined. 4) just read the law: Hillary is disqualified from holding any federal office and 5) FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apartment murder-suicide. All of these stories would have been easy to verify or debunk, if someone was willing to do their homework. But if these stories confirmed what you already believed, it only strengthened those beliefs.
The thing about the 2016 election was that it was probably the most contentious, polarizing campaign, in my lifetime. People either loved or hated Hillary and Trump. Not a lot of undecided voters, despite what some of those in the media might have presented. The question that needs to be answered therefore, is did this Russian bot, disinformation campaign change minds? Possibly, but it probably had no impact on the outcome of the election. But even if it did, I would still stand behind the statement that disinformation is protected free speech and up to the voters to be informed enough to not make decisions based on ridiculous stores on Facebook.
In truth, the word “Deplorables” probably had far more to do with Hillary Clinton losing the election than any disinformation campaign. Hopefully, we have learned something from the 2016 and 2020 campaigns. We need to turn off our devices and start doing our own homework. It’s important to verify the sources of information. If you’ve never heard of the source, chances are it isn’t providing credible information. If something seems too ridiculous to be true, then it’s probably false. But we shouldn’t blame the sources, of disinformation, but rather ourselves, for believing that which we choose to believe.